Thursday, March 26, 2015

Volta ao Alentejo stage 1: Axeon hot streak continues

After years of having some good but jot fantastic early season results, Axeon Cycling (formerly Bontrager) has been off to a lightning start in 2015. After homeboy Ruben Guerreiro took a stage win and the overall win in the GP Liberty Seguros - Trofeu Costa Vicentina and teammate James Oram finished in 4th overall, the team came to the Volta ao Alentejo riding high.

Alentejo is a southern region of Portugal that is the home to the famous cork oaks that make some of the finest cork in the world. One tree alone, when properly harvested, can give enough bark to produce as many as 4,000 wine corks. The cork industry of Alentejo employs 60,000 people annually and still uses fairly rudimentary tools, axes, to harvest the crop since there has not been a mechanical solution that has turned out to be more efficient.

Stage 1 went from Portalegre to Castelo De Vide, a quaint little town butted up against Spain that sits up on a hill with more nooks and crannies than a bag of Thomas English Muffins as well as some nice cobbled streets. The town itself sits under a very large castle that dates to the 14th century and features 32 chapels within the town, which only has a population of 3,400. The town also has an interesting Jewish neighborhood that has the oldest synagogue in Portugal.

A breakaway got away early that included Oscar Landa (Coop-Oster Hus), Sjoerd Kouwenhoven (Metec) and Jose Ragonessi (Ecuador). The trio got a maximum of 4 minutes but once the peloton got a concerted effort going, their advantage was clipped. The group was brought back with 84 kilometers gone and the peloton was active and wasn't letting much go. Byron Guama (Ecuador), who won the KOM sprint last year, won the two KOMs on offer.
With 15 kilometers to go, Tao Geoghegan Hart (Axeon) got into a breakaway with Alberto Gallego (Radio Popular-Onda), Frederik Galta (Coop-Oster Hus), Pawel Bernas (Active Jet) and Mikel Bizkarra (Murias Taldea) and they looked liked they were going well for a while but it would be all for naught when with 500 meters, the breakaway was swept up and the uphill sprint was on.

Oram taking an impressive win with Guerreiro celebrating like he won the damn thing (photo:
James Oram has had one hell of a start to his season. The Kiwi has seemingly gotten better and better as the years have gone on but he was seemingly not living up to his junior results where he won the Tour de l'Abitibi and was 2nd in the World Championship TT. Oram has won the U23 NZ TT, the queen stage in the New Zealand Cycle Classic, 2nd in the REV Classic and 4th overall in the GP Liberty Seguros.

Guerreiro has shown to be a good signing so far for Axeon. When it was announced, I asked why they signed the 2nd best Portuguese rider instead of Joaquim Silva, who had finished 8th in the Tour de l'Avenir. It is early but the egg is being aimed for my face right now if things continue this way for Guerreiro.

The next U23 rider who came across with the lead group, which numbered 44, was USA Cycling's Colin Joyce, who finished 3rd overall in the GP Liberty Seguros. Joyce had been riding quite well this year and has been holding the USA National teams head afloat so far into this European trip.

The race continues with a 153 kilometer stage to Mora, which should be a bunch sprint.

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